Groundbreaking study by Sheffield scientists could help government achieve UK’s net-zero carbon target

  • The University of Sheffield is leading a £7.25 million project to create new sustainable carbon-based materials for use in technologies that use light, including solar energy capture, photocatalysis, medical sensors and optical communications
  • These new materials will enable highly efficient capture and transport of light energy
  • The research could help in the government’s net-zero carbon ambitions

Solar Cells

Scientists from the University of Sheffield have been awarded funding to create new carbon-based materials that could improve light technologies including solar energy capture and medical sensors.

The funding, awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will help researchers develop ‘Molecular Photonic Breadboards’, organic molecular materials that it is hoped will enable highly efficient capture and transport of light energy.

There has long been interest in using carbon molecular materials in these optoelectronic devices because they can be produced in low-energy processes from abundant, inexpensive materials. However, a fundamental barrier has been poor control over the transport of light energy in these materials.

Solar cells are powered by silicon semiconductors absorbing sunlight and converting that sunlight into electricity. For organic materials to match the efficiency of silicon, scientists need to control the behaviour of excitons, formed when light is absorbed by molecules, much more effectively.

The University of Sheffield is leading a £7.25 million project which aims to solve this problem. If successful the project will drive down the cost and improve the performance of organic materials, transforming approaches to solar energy production and consumer electronics, and helping to meet the government’s target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Professor Graham Leggett, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and project lead, said: “Control of excitons is essential for many new and emerging technologies identified in the government's Industrial Strategy as being vital to the economic success of the UK, including solar energy capture, photocatalysis, quantum technologies, and the design of diagnostic devices for personalised medicine.

“An unsolved grand challenge has been to develop design rules for the long-range transport of excitons. Our goal is to solve this grand challenge.”

Dr Jenny Clark and Professors Steve Armes, Julia Weinstein, Nick Williams and Neil Hunter from the Faculty of Science are also working on the project along with Dr Dan Lambert from the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health and researchers at the University of Bristol and Exeter.

The University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemistry has a rich history of excellent research and inspirational teaching. Research spans photophysical and biophysical chemistry, polymers, nanomaterials, theory, organic chemistry and chemical biology. This provides the basis for a substantial and varied portfolio of research grants, collaborations with industry, and research institution partnerships.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Emma Griffiths
Media and PR Assistant
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1034